A newly discovered material called ‘black silicon’ is between 100 and 500 times more sensitive to light than conventional silicon, and could be used to revolutionize solar energy generation.
The material was discovered when a team of Harvard University scientists shone an ultra-powerful laser (briefly producing the same amount of energy as the sun falling on the entire surface of the Earth) on a silicon wafer, before adding sulphur hexafluoride. The result was a silicon wafer that looked black to the naked eye, but when examined under an electron microscope turned out to be covered with a massive amount of ultra-tiny spikes.
The substance has since been found to be incredibly sensitive to light, leading to a range of exciting plans for commercialization, including night-vision and infra-red imaging systems. According to James Carey, co-founder of Harvard spin-off company SiOnyx, “We have seen a 100 to 500 times increase in sensitivity to light compared to conventional silicon detectors.”
However, insiders in the solar power industry are likely to be more excited by the prospect of using black silicon technology to build far more efficient photovoltaic cells, using essentially the same silicon-based processes that are currently employed.
Harvard is expected to announce this Monday (October 13), that it has licensed patents for black silicon to SiOnyx, so it seems likely that we could see the radical new technology put to practical good use in the near future.
Image Credit – SiOnyx
Andrew is a writer and freelance journalist specialising in sustainability and green issues. He lives in Cardiff, Wales.